Young widow Rina Lazarus is busy cleaning up the traditional mikvah, „The Ritual Bath“ mentioned in the book‘s title, after the spiritual cleansing has been completed. A sound from the outside forces her to take a look. She finds one of the women, brutally vulnerated by a rapist. The call goes out to the woman’s husband, student at the same jewish torah study organisation Rina lives in, then the rabbi – and, finally, to LAPD Detective Peter Decker. There have been some cases of vandalism and anti-semitism directed against the community lately and Peter has already been occupied finding a serial rapist in the nearby area. But is there any connection between those three cases?
Along with Decker, I entered alien territory, unknown rituals and limitations. The victim will not allow for a doctor from outside her community or testify to the police, the men won’t look at Peter’s partner Marge, the women won’t feel comfortable alone with Peter. Peter tries to handle the case by the community‘s rules and manages to instill some trust in Rina and the Rabbi. Along the way, the young woman more and more earns Peter’s respect, while he realizes at the same time that he becomes more than just professionally involved. He comes to learn what “family purity“ means in an orthodox context while getting to the core of the crime starts to take its toll on both, Peter and Rina.
A pretty decent crime story, combined with an insight to a world I rather knew nothing about in an easy-going manner, that is what I liked highly in Faye Kellerman’s debut novel. The trick is effective: mikvah, shaytel, yeshiva, mincha,… you read and learn along with Peter Decker. Some will be explained, some will be obvious from the context, I liked to look up some more and ended up with new knowledge. The crimes are capital crimes, yet without the overly gaudy discriptions fashionable lately. The focus is on how the characters will be affected and develop along with the investigations. Decker is depicted without the cliché of broken personality, yet with an inner warmth and humour that works comradly, without being condesending. Rina will be understandable in her turmoil to do the right thing AND comply by her religious compassions. Recommended and, fortunately, to be continued!